Saraki deserves fair hearing-Senate

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

The Nigerian Senate has once again thrown its weight behind the Leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki as Chairman of the National Assembly, following several calls by critics that the embattled Senator should resign his position due to his trial at the code of conduct tribunal (CCT).

Senator Saraki’s case at the CCT is set for resumed hearing on March 10, 2016 but some of his critics outside the National Assembly, and Senators opposed to his Leadership are already calling on him to quit as President of the Senate, even nearly one month to the actual hearing and judgment on the alleged false asset declaration case.

Speaking to Voice of Nigeria ahead of Tuesday’s resumption in plenary, the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume confirmed that there is no plan whatsoever to unseat Senator Saraki, stressing that “after all he has not been found guilty of anything.”

According to Senator Ndume, “Let me refer you to section 35 (5) of our constitution which talks about right of fair hearing. The constitution clearly states that a person is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty by a court of Law. Now, in your own case too, if somebody is accused as Saraki is accused now, do you expect him to say ok, you resign, it means you have found him guilty even before the trial which is not fair,” he declared.

He also refuted claims in some local dailies that his recent visits to the Presidential Villa was to hold consultations on behalf of the Senate President, insisting that the issue is entirely a judicial matter.

“I can’t be going to the Villa because of Saraki. The issue of Saraki as far as am concerned is not a big deal, he is in court accused of certain things, it is the court that will determine his innocence or otherwise. And my going to the Villa again, you people keep on insisting that may be am going to do something but if am doing anything there what is wrong with that?

And all the 109 Senator are equally qualified to be Senate President but right now we have Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki as the Senate President and you have Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume as the Senate Leader for now, I am content with that,” he added.

Critical Bills

On what to expect as the Senate resumes plenary this Tuesday after two weeks of break to consider the 2016 appropriation bill, the Senate Leader stated that the first reading of some critical bills would be made, such as the money laundering bill, public officers’ protection bill, among others.

“We are ready for plenary again and the only thing you need to say as regards the adjustment of our schedule in considering the budget is that government of the APC is dealing with serious damages made by the former governments. It’s not easy to make repairs of the damage that the PDP did for 16 years to the psyche of Nigerians. So, we are trying to bring out a budget document that can be implemented to the later unlike what obtained in the last 16 years where budgets were not fully implemented. Remember that this is the first time that government is putting half a trillion naira dedicated to the less privileged Nigerians. This is the budget that is critical.

“It is the first time a Minister would walk in to defend the budget but instead of defending the budget, he would accuse the budget, saying look, so so amount was put in my budget, I did not know. And then, we take it or remove it, this is what we are working on. That is why I say, this is the first time we are doing a budget with the Executive collectively, moving in the same direction. So, we are expecting that we would bring out a document that is workable and once the President assents to it, it would reflect the reality of what the government wants.”         

Explaining further what informed the Senate’s decision to extend the period of considering the appropriation bill, Senator Ndume said, “As you know, we have some challenges which we are taking care of, just as the Executive alerted the National Assembly of padding in the budget unlike before when you hear accusations that the National Assembly is padding the budget but this time around it is the Executive that is discovering that the budget they presented to us was padded and they have to look at it critically.”